Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Photonics College Network

Last week I wrote about the rewarding career opportunities for photonics techs that are educated/trained at two year colleges. I also mentioned that there are over 25 community and technical colleges in the U.S. that prepare students for these careers. Most of these colleges have hard-working, competent faculty and excellent facilities. Some have new photonics offerings, some have been in operation for over 30 years - and some are struggling to overcome obstacles, such as low enrollment, retiring faculty or curricula that needs a “new look”. Overall, these colleges currently have about 700 photonics students and 280 completers each year. (Recall that our recent study revealed that U.S. employers need about 2100 new photonic techs this year.)
OP-TEC is working hard to close the gap between supply and demand. We are working with over 200 colleges that are considering or planning new programs in photonics; but new programs take time to develop - this is our long-term strategy. Our short term strategy is to help some of the 30 colleges with existing photonics programs to revitalize and grow. We believe, that with some assistance, the existing programs could significantly increase their output of completers in 2-3 years. (We’ve seen that happen in the last 3 years with our 7 Partner Colleges.) Some of that assistance will come from OP-TEC, but much of the help they need is what they can provide for each other by networking and sharing best practices. To facilitate this OP-TEC is forming the OP-TEC Photonics College Network (OPCN).

Membership in OPCN is available for faculty and administrators of two-year colleges that offer courses/programs in optic and photonics. There is no fee to join, but members will benefit - and be a benefit to others, if they are active, in terms of communication, information-sharing and participation in electronic and/or on-site meetings.

Potential benefits include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. Opportunities to network with photonics faculty and administrators of approximately twenty-five U.S. colleges currently or recently offering photonics education.
  2. Access to OPCN e-mail distribution list, member roster, web forum and other networking tools to collaborate and exchange ideas and best practices.
  3. OP-TEC curriculum designs, teaching modules, planning guides and monographs of best practices in photonics education.
  4. Professional development opportunities and technical assistance through OP-TEC to update, enhance and strengthen photonics programs.
  5. Support and information on how to increase program enrollment.
  6. Identification of state-wide photonics employers and access to needs assessment survey process.
  7. News updates on emerging trends in photonics applications and educational innovations.
  8. Eligible for OP-TEC Mini-Grants for program improvement.
  9. Information about other potential grant opportunities such as NSF/ATE, DOE and DOL grants.
  10. Opportunities for OP-TEC fellowships to attend conferences or workshops.
  11. Information on lab equipment availability, used equipment donations or auctions and possible exchange program.
  12. Use of and training on OP-TEC’s hybrid, online course for high school dual credit and for retraining employed technicians.

The inaugural meeting of OPCN will take place July 19-20, in Phoenix, during the pre-conference of the HI-TEC conference. A limited number of Fellowships to attend HI-TEC are available to OPCN members through OP-TEC. To learn more about the HI-TEC conference, visit

The Photonics Colleges represent an enormously important national resource. They are a critical link in providing the competent workforce that U.S. employers will need to remain globally competitive in this emerging technical field.

For more information about OPCN or to request a membership application, please contact Donna Flanery at or call 254-741-8338 x394.

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